On the PlayStation2, the God Of War games established an unlikely blend of nearly pornographic violence and architectural fetishism. In each chapter, the damned anti-hero Kratos, driven well around the bend by killing his own family, explores ever-larger classical edifices while systematically slaughtering nearly everything found within. God Of War III ups the ante in both departments. Opening right where the second game left off, as Kratos assaults Olympus in a bid to kill Zeus, this concluding chapter is more technically grand and gorily excessive than ever.
The PlayStation 3 allows the series new levels of visual excess. The camera swoops along the limbs of impossibly large Titans and the floor plans of Olympian palaces, then dives in to focus on the comparatively tiny Kratos before pulling back again to emphasize some important aspect of the game space. This is a tour de force display of pixel-pushing power. Pre-rendered cutscenes seem quaint as characters battle in real time though the dizzying camera movements. It’s akin to a Grand Guignol Clash Of The Titans directed by Peter Jackson.
With the new visual splendor come delusions of narrative grandeur. Each successive setpiece is a new combination of big and angry, seemingly meant to convey the result of vengeful action. Destruction is delivered in spades, but any hint of redemption comes far too late, after God Of War III pushes into the depths of really hideous violence. You’ll witness the gruesome murder of one god from the victim’s perspective, while the death of another recalls the second-most-horrific scene from Gaspar Noé’s infamous film Irreversible.
Since this is the third chapter of a sprawling story, it’s unreasonable to expect it to conform to a broad Joseph Campbell-approved monomyth. This is essentially one very long endgame, in which Kratos descends into the depths of revenge-fueled madness. This Kratos is a hateful, awful piece of shit, and the walk in his shoes is wearying. Touching appearances from Hephaestus and Daedalus can’t balance the game’s deep embrace of virulent rage, and the last glimpses of hope are about as useful as a Band-Aid on a gaping chest wound. As a technical spectacle, there’s nothing like God Of War III, but while we’re meant to truly feel the anguish of Kratos’ bloody final battle, Sony hasn’t yet trapped a ghost in the machine.